Thursday, February 28, 2013

Business vs. Baseball

Jim Crane has been the owner of the the Houston Astros for over a year now. He has now had one full season and offseason to remake the Astros in his vision. And remake them he did. Nearly everything about the Houston Astros has changed, from the GM to the uniform, as well as the majority of the players. But there seems to me to be an ever growing disconnect between the changes made in the Astros' baseball side and the Astros' business side. One is giving us great hope for the future, and the other often leaves us scratching our heads.

On the baseball side, Crane hired Jeff Luhnow and gave him free rein to rebuild the franchise. Luhnow came over from the Cardinals, where he was integral to the success that franchise experienced, both in the majors and on the farm. Luhnow's hand-picked team has focused on the Astros' minor league system, which was universally ranked among the worst when he took over. The results have been astounding. Through a fantastic draft and many savvy trades, the farm system has improved by leaps and bounds in just a short time. Nearly every national expert now rates the system in the top 10. You might disagree with his vision, but I don't think there is any question that he has been enacting his vision efficiently and effectively.

On the business side, can anyone really tell what is going on? The flubs and head scratchers have been fairly constant from the beginning. They started with the 70 million dollar discount for the move to the AL. There have been ugly billboards blocking the view of the downtown, twitter gaffes, the loss of a beloved broadcaster and questionable claims of poverty. The ongoing negotiations with CSN Houston are threatening to leave a large portion of Houston and the surrounding area unable to watch the Astros.  Recently, people looking for tickets on opening day noticed the ticket prices doubled. The unifying vision of the business side, if there is one, seems to be money. And that is not sitting well.

A lot of these can be viewed as perception problems. There are valid defenses for each one of these moves, and those defenses have been offered. But that misses point. The direction of the baseball side will require patience and faith. In the meantime, we want to know that the Astros care about us, as a fan. We want to know that our loyalty is not being taken for granted. If the Astros have a perception problem with the fans now, whatever the reasons, it could be devastating. A fan lost now might not be regained when the baseball side finally sees results.

For now, the baseball side is still winning over my loyalty. I am still seeing this new ownership as a positive for the Houston Astros, because it is fixing what was broken on the field. But I want to see a unified front. I want to see the baseball side saying be patient, we are working on the future, and the business side saying, we will do everything we can to help you along the way. Right now, those messages seem crossed.


Anonymous said...

A point to quibble on: that paragraph about the sudden resurgance in the minor league rating and Luhnow's arrival is misleading. Many of the top prospects, and almost the entirety of the win/loss improvement in the system last year was accomplished by pre-Luhnow acquisitions. I don't mean to be a heretic, but Wade and Heck deserve a lot of credit on that front.

Just a minor issue, as the theme of the post is spot on.

Paul said...

Here is a sad thought. My family is split fairly evenly between Braves and Astros fans. Because I grew up in Lake Charles I've have always been a very loyal 'Stros fan. So has half of the family. Last week I spoke to my brother who is also a huge Astros fan. And he mentioned that he was going to start watching the Braves instead and has started following their spring training. Due to the fact that the Astros are going to be completely and totally blacked out here this year. Doesn't look like we will even get audio. So, my sister (Braves fan) is now recruiting me. I must say that I've never hated the Braves. So maybe I'll move to the dark side or maybe I'll take a sabbatical from MLB all together and just follow it loosely on sites like this. : (

Keith Ashcraft said...

Looking one by one at the flubs I feel it might not be as bad as it sounds. Specifically, the AL move can probably be put on MLB and not Jim Crane, if not entirely then the large majority of the blame. The billboards are hard to explain, especially considering they didn't get permission from the Houston Sports Authority. Twitter gaffes are just that and probably just the result of a lack of editing. CSN sounds like a crummy situation all the way around, not sure who is at fault, the Astros or Comcast. JD leaving is huge and probably the biggest blow to Astros fandom. Basically, what I'm saying is I agree, it's been a tumultuous time and perhaps not all of the blame can be placed on ownership. But Only time will tell

(Not Hank) Aaron said...

Nooooooo. Don't do it. Don't become a part of the tomahawk chopping hoard. You can get radio on mlb at bat. 20 bucks for the year.

(Not Hank) Aaron said...

Agreed, individually they might not be that bad. But they add up. And if the fans perceive a problem, there is a problem.

Blazemule said...

Hey Paul, you can have an AL and NL team, I did before. The Braves were one of my favorite NL teams when I was growing up. I just loved watching Maddux work, that guy knew how to pitch.

Paul said...

Yeah maybe I'll just listen on mlb audio. Didn't realize that wasn't subject to blackouts. Thanks. But it still stinks not to be able to see them.

I usually attend a dozen or so Astros games a year even though it's a good 7 hr drive.

But, if I can't watch them locally. I'll move that to 0 games.

Case study, the NBA Hornets I listened to on radio last year because there wasn't a broadcast north of the lake of NOLA where I live. This year they are broadcasted on a local station so I can watch the games. I attended 2 games last year. Over 20 this year.

Take that advice MLB.

farmstros said...

I understand the distinction you make, but it is very difficult for me to separate the baseball side from the business side. Mainly because I am pretty certain when push comes to shove, the business side will drive the bus.

Anonymous said...

What happened to Crane's introduction press conference where he sincerely stated he would cut the prices so fans would come??... am I the only one that remembers that... LIKE the Tax tables pre-Reagan letting you hoard as much of the Companies' salary only having to pay taxes as high as 90% of Gross Income ayt $1 Mil. (what 10-yr averaging was for.)

Anonymous said...

Ok to the comment about CSN the Astros own that channel. They are the majority stake holder. The only reason you can't watch your team is because Jim Crane wants his money.

Part of running a business is making your customers happy. I honestly don't understand why Crane bought the team. The average fan was already lost. He has done everything possible to upset and drive away his core customers. His stunt flying off to golf with Obama after telling us the Astros are broke shows how out of touch he really is. If he thought minute maid was empty last year just wait. I absolutely hate what he has done to my team.